HARRISBURG – Senators Ryan Aument (R-36), Lloyd Smucker (R-13), and Representatives Bryan Cutler (R-100), Mindy Fee (R-37), Keith Greiner (R-43), Dave Hickernell (R-98), Steve Mentzer (R-97), Brett Miller (R-41) and Dave Zimmerman (R-99) today sent an urgent letter to Governor Wolf imploring him to keep Pennsylvania’s public schools open.
The Lancaster County lawmakers have grown increasingly worried that, given the line-item veto of $3 billion in school funding that Governor Wolf did on December 29, 2015, some schools in Pennsylvania may not have sufficient revenue to finish the school year.
“There is absolutely no need to create a crisis,” said Senator Aument. “I cannot, and will not, sit idly by while the destructive nature of politics places students, families and educators in harm’s way.”
The legislators were particularly troubled by recent comments made by the Governor’s spokesman, who said in an interview with Capitolwire on March 15 that Governor Wolf told Democrat lawmakers, “schools are going to close,” and, “If we do not get a final budget that does the things he’s [the Governor’s] been fighting for, schools are going to close soon.”
“We cannot allow schools to close when sufficient revenues are available to fund public education,” said Senator Smucker. “We have a constitutional and moral obligation to act. We should close out the 2015-16 budget and make a clean start for 2016-17.”
The lawmakers encouraged the Governor to sign House Bill 1801 into law, a supplemental spending plan for the 2015-16 fiscal year that restored monies previously vetoed by Governor Wolf. House Bill 1801 is expected to be sent to the Governor today.
“The time is long past that we conclude the 2015-16 budget, and House Bill 1801 does just that,” said Rep. Hickernell. “In difficult economic times, the General Assembly still managed to find an additional $200 million new dollars for our schools, which the Governor should give them by signing this bill into law.”
“I cannot fathom that there is any justifiable reason why any leader would put children, parents and teachers in the position of worrying about a school closure,” said Rep. Fee. “This type of approach to governing is not just unnecessary, it’s destructive, and it only serves as a distraction from the important task of educating our young people.”
Rep. Greiner, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, noted that Act 10-A of 2015, coupled with the spending authorized in House Bill 1801, would provide a total of $10.74 billion for Pennsylvania’s public schools in 2015-16. “Our Commonwealth can be proud of its commitment to education, and I implore Governor Wolf to allow these critical funds to flow now so we can prevent any school from running out of money to operate.”
“I have voted time and again to get these monies out of the State Treasury and into local school districts,” said Rep. Mentzer. “Government should solve problems – not create them – and Governor Wolf not only has the authority, but he has the responsibility to prevent a school from closing.”
Rep. Miller, a former educator, noted that the idea that a state chief executive would knowingly allow a school to run out of money when resources were made available to keep operations open comes close to nonfeasance, or the failure to act where action is required, either willfully or by neglect. “While we may have disagreements over how much more money public schools should receive, there should be no disagreement over whether they stay open,” said Rep. Miller. “The Governor has a duty to act to prevent a crisis, and that’s exactly what he should do.”
“I cannot believe that we are even having a conversation about a school closing,” said Rep. Zimmerman. “I came to Harrisburg to make things better for people and I believed other elected state officials did too,” said Rep. Zimmerman. “Governor Wolf needs to do the right thing and sign House Bill 1801 into law and end this nonsensical situation.”
The legislators noted that they have not heard of any Lancaster County schools that are on the verge of closing, but that protracted 2015-16 budget impasse has placed an additional financial burden on local school districts who used reserve funds to meet obligations.
“This is precisely why Rep. Hickernell and I introduced House Bill 1159 and Senate Bill 807 to continuously fund schools in the event a state budget is not timely enacted,” said Sen. Aument.
“The entire Lancaster County delegation is serious about meeting our obligations to children, parents and educators,” echoed Rep. Cutler. “I can only hope Governor Wolf is, too.”
CONTACT: (Sen. Aument) Jake Smeltz, (717) 787-4420